A Review of the Kizumonogatari Trilogy

Studio Shaft turned Nisio Isin’s bizarre, engaging, and dialogue rich novel series into one of the most visually appealing Animated series of all time and if you have never watched the Monogatari series before, now is the time to give it a try.

If aesthetic and visual storytelling is your jam, then Kizumonogatari will be your bible. Announced in 2010, this trilogy tells the tale of wounds that put the entire story of the series into motion, making it the perfect place to jump in for newcomers.

Kizumonogatari grabbed me from the opening scene. An Anime-original sequence of our protagonist, walking through an abandoned building, scaling a labyrinth of empty hallways and spiral staircases until he arrives at a rooftop, home to a sea of crows. The clouds in the sky, orange from the rising sun, begin to part. The protagonist shields his eyes at first before his eyes open wide with shock. The reality of his situation sets in. He ignites on fire. He has become a vampire.

Kizumonogatari is the story of Koyomi Araragi. He hears a rumor of a beautiful blonde vampire roaming his town and encounters her that same night. Her name is Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade. Laying on the floor of a subway platform, bloodied and robbed of her limbs, she asks for Araragi’s blood. While he first recoils he decides to give her his blood, unable to let another person suffer such a painful death.

Awaking from what he thought to be his dying moment, he finds himself the servant to a much younger looking Kiss-Shot, who requests that he retrieve the limbs stolen from her so that she may regain her powers (and her mature form). In return, he can regain his humanity. With the help of a mysterious expert on the occult and the support of his bespectacled classmate and newfound friend, Araragi must defeat the three vampire hunters who stole his master’s limbs, all while learning more about his mysterious master.

The novel of Kizumonogatari was written and published right after the release of the Bakemonogatari novels, finally giving fans the origin story that started everything. This trilogy’s existence now is even more poignant considering how much longer the Anime series has gone on before now. This is what I meant when I said that this movie was perfect for fans and newcomers alike.

This is the first teaser that was ever released for the film.

And here we see what it turned into.

Kizumonogatari is a tragedy and it is stated to be such right in the opening paragraphs of the novel. The film forgoes such blatant foreshadowing in favor of the prolonged intro described above. Like the other entries in the series, Kizu’s story is so magnetic thanks to its electric cast of characters.

Araragi has always been a fun character to follow in the series. He’s a weirdo with a heart of gold who can’t stop himself from helping those in need to an almost self-destructive degree. At the very least, this is what has defined him throughout the series so far. Through this trilogy, we see a completely different Araragi. One who avoids becoming attached to others out of a self-professed fear of becoming vulnerable.

Kizu Araragi

Koyomi Araragi, voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya

 

It borders on sounding needlessly edgy and it is a relief to see the story point that out. We see the origin of his instinct to help people and it is a transformation made all the more emotional by the performance of Hiroshi Kamiya. His arc is a joy to watch, primarily because of the characters who inspire this change in him. One such character is Tsubasa Hanekawa, Araragi’s classmate.

Hanekawa absolutely steals the show. Her intelligence and friendly attitude play off of Araragi’s self-afflicted loneliness wonderfully. She only makes one appearance in the first film, but her developing relationship with Araragi in the second is the highlight of that entire film. Hanekawa’s tenacity and her ability to turn any potentially embarrassing situation around on someone else have always made her one of my favorite characters.

Kizu Hanekawa

Tsubasa Hanekawa, voiced by Yui Horie

 

After the opening credits, we see Araragi’s first encounter with Hanekawa, as a gust of wind comes out of nowhere, blowing up Hanekawa’s skirt in a brief scene of levity. Typical fanservice fare, I know, but Hanekawa almost immediately strikes up a conversation with Araragi, breaking the ice and making Araragi feel more awkward for having witnessed it than Hanewaka was for having been exposed.

Equally essential to Araragi’s character arc is Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade. Her introduction in the first film alone keys the viewer into a sort of duality to her character that hints at more to her than she lets on. Her calm demeanor in the face of death says a lot about the power she holds over people, when Araragi, the one who is really in control, is terrified of her. (Credit to RCAnime– potential spoilers in the vid)

Kizu kissshot mk1

Kiss-Shot, in one of her younger forms, voiced by Maaya Sakamoto

 

Introduction aside, she isn’t as essential in the second film of the trilogy. The third film, however, belongs to Kiss-Shot. It is the longest of the three films and spends a great deal of time not only dealing with the aftermath of Araragi’s battles with the three Vampire hunters but also Kiss-Shot’s past and the bond that she and Araragi have built together throughout the trilogy. She is without a doubt, the biggest loser in this tragedy and the deepest character in these films.

Last but not least is Meme Oshino. Even in the main series, Oshino is the most perplexing character. Never have I felt like I truly know everything there is to know about him and that is likely by design. Regardless, he is one cool dude, and I may have ranked him as number four on my list of the top five hottest Anime dudes that I made a while back.

He shows up right at the end of the first film when Araragi is about to be killed by the vampire hunters and then the first film ends with him offering to help Araragi and Kiss-Shot. He offers to work as a mediator between them and the vampire hunters, arranging the fights between them and Araragi, which will ultimately decide if Araragi gets one of the limbs or not.

Kizu Oshino

Meme Oshino, voiced by Takahiro Sakurai

 

Oshino is driven by a desire to preserve balance. He does what he does to make sure no one entity is too powerful and his only discernible goal is to achieve the ending which is the most beneficial or the least detrimental. He is utilitarian, yet doesn’t necessarily decide the outcome. He creates a situation in which all parties are on even terms, believing the outcome, whatever it is to be just because it was fair. If Kiss-Shot is the deepest character, Oshino is certainly the most intriguing.

I wish I could say much about the three vampire hunters, but there isn’t much to be said. Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter lack even the minimal amount of intrigue allotted them in the novel and this is primarily due to certain parts being cut out of the film that had fleshed these characters out a bit more in the novel.

Kizu vampire hunters

(From left to right) Episode, Guillotine Cutter, and Dramaturgy

 

Dramaturgy is a vampire hunting his own kind, Episode is half human/ half vampire, and Guillotine Cutter is completely human. The film only gets to the surface level details that make these characters interesting, but they aren’t expanded upon. If they were, it would be symbolic of Araragi’s enemies becoming more human as he becomes more vampiric. This brings me to another problem. This trilogy didn’t need to be a trilogy.

I understand the temptation to divide the story into three acts. The first introduces every character who will be relevant, the second focuses on the fights and expands the relationship between Araragi and Hanekawa. The final film deals with the aftermath and Kiss-Shot’s backstory. Thing is, these films could have been one film with no changes.

Altogether, the three Kizumonogatari films are about three hours and 20 minutes, give or take maybe 10 minutes. They also came out pretty close to one another. The first two released in 2016, both approximately 60 minutes in length. The final film was about 80 minutes and released in early 2017. Clearly, there wasn’t a ton of production time between each film, and they already had seven years. As the films are right now, the first one lacks a conclusive ending.

Tekketsu-hen just ends with Oshino’s arrival and him offering to help the others, but what is supposed to be a hopeful ending comes off as anti-climactic. The sequel, Nekketsu-hen is a far more well-rounded story with an awesome cliffhanger leading into Reiketsu-hen, the finale. All it was missing was more development for the vampire hunters. Had the first two films all been one, perhaps I wouldn’t have a problem.

After all, my issue with the hunters is a missed opportunity but not a dealbreaker, considering the films decision to focus on the main characters. It seems the films are only split into a trilogy to make more money in Blu-ray sales, which is disappointing. However, I will take solace in the fact that while some things were cut out, they did not go the Hollywood route and make unnecessary additions.

Monogatari’s core appeal is two-fold. Not just characters but visuals as well. In this vein, Kizu is a masterclass in visual storytelling. What many other shows and even other entries in the Monogatari series rely on words to convey, this trilogy manages to do effortlessly in its presentation. The opening scene I described is just one of many that managed to perfectly translate the tone of the original novel into a visual equivalent. Take for instance Hanekawa’s introduction to the plot.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Hanekawa breaks the fourth wall by calling out how Araragi spent two pages describing her brief upskirt. In reality, it only lasted a few seconds, but the description made that brief moment feel like minutes. Similarly, the film’s jazzy soundtrack, the spotlight focused on Araragi’s eye and the quality of the artwork made the 30-second sequence speak volumes.

RC Anime made a great video about Kizumonogatari’s merits as an adaptation that I encourage you all to check out. There are spoilers for the films though, so I recommend watching them or reading the novel before checking out the video. There is a lot to be taken from his video, but ultimately, I believe the choice to set the scene in a pristine and bright subway platform is a change that, for me, helped the scene become truly spectacular.

Aside from creative liberties, the lack of narration is what really impresses me. Monogatari is a series known for its dialogue and the use of narration throughout, so to have the first film, Tekketsu, feature no such narration is a big change that challenges the creators to tell the story in a way that keeps the heart of the story intact. It is the best kind of adaptation. The best example of this is Araragi’s encounter with Kiss-Shot.

What I mean when I say “translating tone” is keeping the characters, plot, and dialogue the same, but taking creative liberties in how the events are illustrated. In the case of Araragi meeting Kiss-Shot, this means changing the environment. Whereas the novel had Araragi discovering Kiss-Shot’s body beneath a lone streetlamp, the film has him following a trail of blood through a subway, each moment building the tension more and more.

The success of these drawn-out sequences is perhaps thanks to the incredible cinematography on display throughout the series. Tatsuya Oishi’s talent for framing of shots and the effect of this framing on characters is still as great here as it was in Bakemonogatari. Additionally, there is a synergy of hand-drawn animation, live-action footage and CGI that I did not believe could be done so well, with only a few instances of CGI characters to ruin things. Needless to say, the character designs by Akio Watanabe are gorgeous.

When Kizumonogatari stumbles, it isn’t necessarily subtle about it though. For as much as I praise the storytelling, there are times where I found it hard to take certain things seriously. There were a few instances where Araragi’s shocked and fearful reactions were a bit too overdramatized. The biggest moment where the presentation made it hard to take things seriously was during the final battle of the trilogy.

If the intent was to be comedic (which is undeniable), then they succeeded, but some watching may have hoped the tone to be more serious given the emotional weight of the battle. The aftermath of the fight succeeded in delivering that seriousness, but the fight itself could have been more consistent.

I will say that Kizumonogatari is very funny when it wants to be. Some of its funniest moments, be it during the final battle, the trilogy’s forays into fan service and any of the myriad visual gags were wonderfully executed. Since not everyone is of the same mind about sexualization and fan service, I will say that I think it is done effectively here without cheapening the characters involved, but if it is not your thing, I won’t judge you if you decide to forgo this series. For a better handle on my view of sexualization in Anime, you can read my essay on the subject here.

In an extremely generous offer, the Blu-rays for this trilogy came with the soundtracks and I have had many a pleasant walk listening to these beautiful tracks. Satoru Kousaki, to my knowledge, has produced most of (if not all of) the music in this series but this has to be his best work. The music was specifically crafted for these scenes, even in terms of the length. Music was clearly just as important to the construction of these scenes as any other factor and that deserves the highest commendation in my eyes.

Kizumonogatari is well poised to be one of the best entries in the entire series. It looks the best, practically the pinnacle of French new wave influence on this series ever. It also sounds amazing and has one of the most interesting narratives. It captures the heart of the series, but at the same time feels unlike any of the other entries.

Take for instance the structure of the trilogy. The first film, as mentioned, has no monologue and is focused on visual storytelling. For a series so committed to character dialogue and narration, this is unheard of and almost feels like a completely different series. The second film delivers more dialogue-heavy scenes but also has more action in its 60 minutes than in a vast majority of the series.

As it happens, the third Kizu film is the closest to capturing what a vast majority of the Monogatari series is like. There is, for once, a narration by Araragi and the film features some long scenes in one particular location that run the risk of being rather boring. Thankfully, this is Monogatari, and that tedium is broken up by the frenetic visual pacing.

If there is a negative aspect to these changes to the Monogatari formula, it has to do with my opening statement about this being a jumping off point for new viewers. This film requires no prior knowledge of the series at all to understand what is going on, which is good, but you should be aware that the Monogatari TV series is not conventionally exciting in the same way that this film is. You can still expect an incredible cast and some very clever writing, but Monogatari is also a show defined by its dialogue and characters rather than action.

It is not a series for everyone, but for those who are doubtful of their ability to get into the Monogatari series, this film trilogy will be the easiest test. It is the high point of the series in terms of aesthetics, visuals and most of all, music. Should those elements please you, then you would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out the rest of the series. Afterward, Bakemonogatari is on Amazon Prime, and the (most of) the rest of the series is readily available through Crunchyroll

[Correction: Bakemonogatari is not on Prime anymore, so the last three episodes are not available for legal streaming anywhere. However, you can watch the first 12 on Crunchyroll, albeit with poor visual quality.]

Kizumonogatari is one of the most creative book to film adaptations I have ever seen. Whether it is the beginning of your next favorite series or just a movie night with some friends, this trilogy is one that you’ll be talking about long after the credits roll.


Kizumonogatari, Parts I, II, and III are not available for legal streaming and are only distributed through special edition Blu-rays by Aniplex. Since it is Aniplex, these can be expensive, so I’m not gonna judge if you decide to watch these on some shady sites. That being said, they do include an art book, art cards, and the soundtracks. I was lucky enough to find the first two at a Disc Replay for a good price, but I’m one of the lucky ones.

Thanks for reading my review. This one was on the back-burner for a while, but I wanted to wait for my review of RWBY Volume Three to be finished before I really got work on this. Hope you all enjoyed reading, and keep a lookout for the conclusion to my RWBY review series and a review of Netflix’s new Anime, B: The Beginning. All coming soon! As always, see you next time!!!

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s